The nation's top defensive player, D.J. Williams, couldn't decide where to go
Coaches are usually immune to the annual strains of recruiting hyperbole. They can, however, be carriers. Consider the case of D.J. Williams, a tailback-linebacker for De La Salle High in Concord, Calif., and Parade magazine's national high school player of the year. One college coach compares Williams to Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks; another likens him to New York Giants linebacker Jessie Armstead.
Williams is versatile, too. Not only does he play like Brooks, but he can act like Garbo. On Feb. 2, the first day that high school seniors could sign national letters of intent, the 6'2", 225-pound Williams just wanted to be alone.
After telling De La Salle coach Bob Ladouceur and Miami coach Butch Davis last week that he would sign with the Hurricanes, Williams flinched. His "buyer's remorse," as Ladouceur described it, surprised even Williams's mother, Sherri Gonzales. On the eve of signing day she had given a statement to Student Sports magazine explaining why her son had chosen Miami. Williams's hesitation left Florida State and Cal, his other two finalists, with slim hope for a sudden about-face.
Here's why: Williams made 133 tackles, 37 for losses, last season for De La Salle. On the side, Williams rushed for 1,974 yards and 30 touchdowns, although he will concentrate on defense in college. Ladouceur, a man not given to gushing, says, "I've been the head coach for 21 years. I hadn't seen an athlete of his caliber, let alone coached one."
On signing day, sprawled on a couch in Ladouceur's office, the 17-year-old pleaded for solitude so he could make his decision. "I have to sit and think this out," Williams said. His Parade trophy sat on a cardboard box. Over the course of an hour Williams never acknowledged the trophy's presence, a refreshing dose of humility in a time of gargantuan egos. "My coach is supposedly the best high school coach ever," Williams said, glancing at Ladouceur, who is 236-14-1 at De La Salle. "If he doesn't walk around with a chip on his shoulder, no way I can walk around telling people how good I am. If you have talent, they'll see it."
Williams grew up a Florida State fan. Once recruiting began, however, the Seminoles lost their biggest advantage. Coach Bobby Bowden's ability to charm mamas into sending their blue-chip babies to Tallahassee has made him a living-room legend, but D.J. and his mother decided against home visits and insisted that recruiters meet them at De La Salle. "I feel a recruiter's goal is to come in and be your friend so that it's hard to say no," says D.J. "This makes it more of a business thing and less of a personal thing."
Williams became aware of the Hurricanes during his childhood in Pinole, Calif., the hometown of Gino Torretta, who won the 1992 Heisman Trophy as a quarterback at Miami. Williams began to take the Hurricanes seriously last fall after watching them play the Seminoles evenly for three quarters before losing 31-21. "When they played the best in the nation, they played different," he says. "You could see the intensity of the game."
Williams is drawn to the emotion of the Florida State- Miami rivalry and wants to play on a defense with aggressive linebackers, which both teams have. "On offense you mink, You can't stop me," Williams says. "I like the thought of being unstoppable. But you can feel like that on defense, too." Williams expects to announce his choice this week, and there was no reason to believe he would stray from his preference for the Hurricanes. For a few days, however, all he wanted was to be alone.
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